ANINDITA DAS catches up with Bangladeshi singer Mac Haque
My curiosity soared when I heard about the musician, poet and philosopher Mac Haque‘s Assam connection. A renowned rockstar from Bangladesh and the band leader of Maqsood-o’-Dhaka, who calls himself an “Axomiya Bangladeshi”. It was more surprising to hear him talking in Assamese when I called him for an appointment. As soon as I entered the living room of “Luit Sora”, a guest house with the breathtaking river side view at Kharguli to meet him, I was greeted warmly by Mac, his lovely wife Lira and their little daughter Mihika. The long haired musician, totally attired in black, was fluently conversing both in Assamese as well as English. What I could not help asking him at the first instance was this:
How can you speak such fluent Assamese? Do you have any more people in your family speaking the language?
Though I was born and brought up in Bangladesh, it’s my father who made a rule that we speak only Assamese at home. It was due to the fear of being canned that we had to speak Assamese. My father would not respond if we would speak in any other language. Yeah, we have a small group of about fifty to hundred people who speak Assamese in Bangladesh. May be people are not aware about it as we never formed any Assamese community or Association there. It’s from my childhood that I speak, read and even sing in Assamese.
How did music happen?
It seems I was born to be a musician. Both my grandmothers, who happened to be sisters also, inspired me with their love of music. My parents too were very fond of music. Radio was my first teacher. From 1976 onwards I fully got into music. My mother was liberal, she encouraged me to become a musician, but my father was a little sceptical. I did my post graduation in English literature. So he took some time to understand my inclination towards music. I got a job of a singer in a restaurant of a hotel. It was quite a lot of money I was earning at a very young age. At that time I had the notion that to sing in any language other than English would make me appear backward. I was into all kinds of western music – Pop, Rock, Reggae and you name it. As the lead vocalist of the band Feedback, I was already gaining recognition. But later I realised that to connect to the people and to convey the thoughts, the language should be close to the heart of those for whom you are singing. So, it was the Bengali albums which made the difference. The release of the album Euphoria (Ulhas) made me as well as the band famous. People who did not know me knew my songs. The song “melai jai re” from the album Mela was a blockbuster hit. Then Bangabdo 1400 was released in 1994, which was voted to be the best Bengali album by the weekly Jai Jaidin’s voters’ poll. There was no looking back since then.
How did you get influenced by Baul music?
Bangladesh has abundance of folk music, out of which two hundred forms are still alive. It was more the Baul philosophy which attracted me as it is beyond any religion and community. It addressed my sense of identity, feeding the query “who am I?” We Bauls do not believe in the politics of identity. It believes in the essence of humanity. Baul tradition essentially evolved from Buddhism as far as my findings goes. Bhakti movement and Sufism are also associated with it. ‘Bauliana’ was the first Baul folk fusion album and the last work with Feedback. In the year 2005 UNESCO included Baul tradition as “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
How do you look at life now?
The year 1990 was a period of transition for me, my entire perspective towards life has changed. I did a lot of research on Baul music, the music of mankind, as expressed in the music of Lalon Fakir. At the same time I must say that Quran freed me, it did not entrap me. My association with Baul entailed many determinations. This bears testimony to the fact that we Bangladeshis are liberal. It is surprising to see that a country of poor people is so much dedicated to Baul tradition and philosophy. Out of the four tarikas (the four orders of Baul) I follow the black one. I wish later to switch on to the white order, if I can gather that much of mental strength required hold on its strict principles. Now I want to spread the message of Baul philosophy, to let people know how exactly it looks at life. Moreover, if my effort can bring about even a little positive change in people’s thinking, I will have my share of happiness in it.